Overcoming Challenges in Advanced Analytics
How organizations are improving skills, expanding their technical knowledge, and gaining executive support for next-generation analytics.
- By Fern Halper, Ph.D.
- February 17, 2015
TDWI recently released its best practices report on next-generation analytics. In this report, next-generation analytics is defined as analytics beyond reporting and dashboards. It includes predictive analytics, text analytics, geospatial analytics, as well as the technology to support it.
The evolving ecosystem can get quite complex. It is no surprise then, that when we asked respondents about their challenges, the top three included lack of skilled personnel, lack of understanding of technology, and insufficient budget and/or a lack of executive support. Let's examine each of these interrelated challenges along with some best practices organizations are using to overcome these obstacles.
Skill implies an expertise or ability, which generally includes training or at least practice to do well. This is the case with data analysis as well. Although the market has recently been quick to provide tools that make advanced analytics easier to use, the reality is that organizations still cited skills as their number one challenge and by a significant margin (52 percent put this at the top of their list compared to 33 percent who said lack of technical understanding was their top challenge). Enterprises need a newer skill set that requires knowledge of big data, Hadoop, and other platforms. Analysis abilities include technical know-how, quantitative skills, as well as the ability to formulate questions, think critically, interpret results, and communicate. Only 3 percent of respondents claimed that they had the skills they needed to perform next-generation analytics.
What are organizations doing to obtain these skills? Some organizations talked about hiring fewer (but more skilled) personnel. Sometimes these people are part of a center of excellence that helps train others in their organization. Many organizations want to train from within because they believe their current employees understand the business and could learn new skills. These organizations may bring in-house trainers into the company or send staff to training programs to learn the necessary skills. Most organizations (at least in this survey) are doing a combination of outside hiring (of mostly mid-career people) and inside training. Some organizations hire outside consultants to help jumpstart their efforts. Some talk about hiring internal consultants.
Lack of an Understanding of the Technology
This challenge is related to skills. There are many new technologies on the market; some organizations are struggling to gain a high-level understanding of what these technologies do, and they want to get past the marketing jargon. Many respondents to our survey were either training themselves or getting training from internal and external sources. In addition to training (if they could afford it), these workers are attending webinars or gathering reading material and talking to vendors. Some are taking free online courses. Once they started to understand the technology and think it could be useful for a certain business problem, they often try a proof of concept (POC). The lucky organizations have a culture that enables them to experiment to learn something from the POC.
Funding and Executive Support
Getting executive support can move next-generation analytics forward. As one respondent put it, "A new VP of BI has recently been hired at our organization, and she has created a team whose mandate is pure analytics. They will be the champions of this cause."
If a champion is not available, organizations are taking other approaches. Some are trying to influence and educate the decision makers. This may involve one-on-one meetings or successful proof-of-concept projects that highlight value. One respondent said, "We are persisting in showing the advantages of analytics to our board." Others stated that they are "piloting use cases that show advantages." Some try to find good use cases in peer companies that could provide value to their own enterprise.
A Final Word
There is no silver bullet to overcoming challenges. It often takes persistence and hard work. However, the results are rewarding.
TDWI offers a wealth of training on new technologies, such as the upcoming TDWI Conference in Las Vegas (February 22-27, 2015).